A story told at Prestbury Methodist Church, Pietermaritzburg on 14 February 2010
I was digging in old Benjamin’s field. He allowed us to plant vegetables in the lower end of the field by the old fig tree, just as long as we shared them with him. He wasn’t one to give anything away. Joanna had made my lunch as she always did when I was working away from home.
“I’ll just finish this furrow,” I told myself. “Then I’ll stop for lunch.”
As I dug, some of the earth fell away and subsided into a hole below ground. An old foxhole, I thought, and as I dug further into the hole it seemed to run closer to the fig tree. I found pieces of wood and then the remains of an old wooden box, about four feet by two. Most of it had rotted away and that may have encouraged the collapse of the hole. The box was full of clothing, I think. It was hard to tell; most of it had also rotted and, mixed with the soil, it disintegrated in my fingers. But there was something else—another box under the clothing, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Although it was very dirty it was clearly very beautiful. When I rubbed it, what looked like gold shone in the sunlight.
This box was in excellent condition, except that the padlock had all but rusted away. When I opened it—oh yes, I opened it; there was no holding back now; I was in boots and all. When I opened it, I nearly fell in the hole. I can’t describe the magic of what I saw. It was like being transported to another time and place. The box was full of old coins and precious stones. I didn’t recognise the coins, but they were certainly gold. There was also a crown of some sort but some of the clasps had broken and some of the precious stones had fallen out. I sat on the edge of the hole for a good five minutes in shock. Then I closed the box and covered it with soil. I sat on top of it and ate my lunch. I tried not to gobble it down—to eat slowly (as my mother tried to teach me) and to think.
I couldn’t just carry the box away, even if no one saw me. It belonged to the owner of the field, to old Benjamin, although, heaven knows, he had no need of it. I would have to buy the field from him. I’d have to think of a story otherwise he would be suspicious. But the cost? A fair price would be more than I’d saved up. I thought of Joanna. What to tell her? It would cost us all that we have: the house, the goats, perhaps even her mother’s ring? But this little box is surely worth far more than everything we have; more than we could ever hope or dream of having.
I filled in the hole and replanted a row of leeks over the top of it. I spent the rest of the afternoon as far away from the fig tree as possible, and tried to think only of vegetables. But my heart wasn’t in it.
I went home early and found Joanna in the kitchen busy with supper. I went to wash and I spent the rest of the time before we ate thinking furiously outside.
I’m not a great talker but I was quieter than usual. Joanna asked, “What happened today?”
“Oh,” I said. “I managed to get the leeks thinned out. We’re going to have a good crop. And I found some late figs on the tree. I must take some over to Benjamin tomorrow.”
But that didn’t satisfy her.
“Why are you so quite?” she asked.
What should I say?
“Well, there’s something I’d like to talk about after supper.”
Of course Joanna wanted to talk about it straight away but I managed to hold her back until the dishes were done and we were sitting in our comfortable chairs in the corner of the room.
“How would you feel about selling the house?” I asked.
“What? Sell the house? What for?” Joanna reacted, displaying her usual skill of asking three questions in half a dozen words.
“What’s happened?” she added, in case three weren’t enough.
“Well,” I said, trying to answer at least one of her questions before any more occurred to her. “I want us to buy old Benjamin’s field.”
“What?” she exclaimed. “Why? What do you want with Benjamin’s field?”
“Well,” I said, taking a deep breath. “You won’t believe it. It sounds crazy, I know, but I found a box full of gold coins and precious stones when I was digging today. I don’t know what it will be worth, but a king’s ransom, that’s for sure. It will be worth far more than anything and everything we have.”
“What?” Joanna locked incredulous. “Who does it belong to? What did you do with it?”
“Well, it’s under a row of leeks right now,” I told her. “As for who it belongs to, its original owner is long gone; now it belongs to the owner of the field. That’s why I want us to buy it from Benjamin.”
“But what if it’s not worth so much? We’ll be left with a useless field and nowhere to stay. We can’t take that chance.”
“There’s no risk, I promise you,” I said. “This is worth more than everything we’ve got and everything we could ever hope to get. It’s all gold and precious stones.” I tried to describe the box and its contents to Joanna, but it was a difficult task. She was excited, but not convinced. I knew that if I mentioned her mother’s ring now, I would have no hope of convincing her. There was only one thing to do. Joanna had to see for herself.
“Why don’t you come with me tomorrow?” I suggested. “We could drop the figs off with old Benjamin on the way. We could perhaps drop a hint that we are thinking that we might like to buy the field at some stage and see what reaction we get. We can always say we’ve decided not to, if you’re not convinced—but I know you will be,” I added.
“What if someone sees us?” Joanna asked.
“We’re just harvesting our crop. There are some leeks and cucumbers that we can collect. I was going to wait ‘till next week but there won’t be any harm if we pick them tomorrow.”
Joanna went to bed still sceptical but by the time we were breaking our fast the next morning I could see that she was excited (in a subdued sort of way).
On the way to the field, we stopped off at old Benjamin’s and gave him his figs. He was glad to see Joanna—no surprise there—and we dropped our hint.
“Have you every thought about selling your field Benjamin?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Why?’
That’s the question I was expecting. “Well,” I replied. “I would like the chance to buy it if you did sell it, rather than have someone else take it over, leaving me with nowhere to grow vegetables.”
“Oh,” he said. “No problem there. I’m not planning to sell.”
“I was also thinking about how good a house would look up there and what a beautiful site it would be, just by the spring.”
“Huh? Have you spoken to your misses about that hare-brained idea?” he asked, looking at Joanna.
“Yes,” I lied. “And I thought we’d look around when we go up there today. But I’m just thinking out loud for now. We haven’t decided anything.”
“Well,” he said. “We can talk about it. But you’ll pay me a fair price,” he added.
We took our leave and walked out of the village to the field. I suggested that we should start with a general survey of the crops while checking that no one was around. When we were sure that we were alone, we went across to the old fig tree. I checked in the branches just in case—no one there. I fussed about among the leeks I had replanted the day before and then carefully dug them up, watching all the while for any inquisitive eyes.
I dug down to the box. Joanna’s excitement grew. She hung over my shoulder as I worked. I told her to go and check the leeks at the other end because anyone looking on would wonder what she was so excited about. Finally I got down to the box. Again, carefully checking for intruders, I pulled it out and put it into Joanna’s basket. I dragged it into the shade of the tree and let Joanna have the fun of opening it. I could feel her excitement. I knew how I had felt the day before. Her mouth dropped open and her eyes got wider and wider. She seemed to go into a trance. She touched the coins and felt among the stones.
“What are we going to do?” she eventually whispered.
“Buy the field?” I suggested.
“Yes, of course,” Joanna replied. “But will he sell? And we wouldn’t want to live out here would we?”
“No,” I replied. “We wouldn’t. But I think that’s what will persuade old Benjamin. If he thought you wanted it and you had your heart set on a new house here, I think he’d sell, rather than if it was just for me to extend my vegetables.”
“Well,” said Joanna, ever practical. “Let’s look for a site so that we can answer any questions. But, for heaven’s sake, put this back and cover it up, quickly.”
I put the box back into the hole, covered it up, and replanted the leeks, again. I was so nervous. I hoped I didn’t have to do it again.
That night Joanna and I spoke until late about what we could do to find the money for the field. She even suggested selling her mother’s ring, bless her heart. I thanked her and suggested that we keep that as a final option.
I thought about what had happened over the past two days. There I was thinking that I could persuade Joanna to sell the house, and her mother’s ring, just by describing the treasure I’d found. When that failed I didn’t know what I’d do. But one look and she was as committed as I was.
Two days later I went to see Benjamin. He thought I was mad.
“But if Joanna has set her heart on living out there, I won’t stand in your way,” he said.
He also knew that he wouldn’t live forever and his son, who lived in Jerusalem, would inherit the field. He wouldn’t want it and he’d just sell it to the highest bidder.
“So, perhaps it’s as well to get it done now,” he eventually said.
“I’ll ask the village elders to come together and we will fix a price. Perhaps Friday?”
The price was fair, but more than we could afford, and Joanna did have to sell her mother’s ring. But, unbeknown to her, I asked the merchant not to sell it for a month and I would do my best to buy it back from him. We sold the goats and the donkey—our neighbours also thought we were mad. There were no buyers for the house. It wasn’t worth much but we managed to get a loan from an old friend to cover the rest of the price and, two weeks later, we were the proud owner’s of Benjamin’s field. Would we ever get used to calling it anything other than Benjamin’s field?
We waited a week; how we managed it, I don’t know, but after a week we dug up the box and took it down to the house with a load of leeks. I borrowed a neighbour’s donkey for the trip. We hid the box inside the house. It was such a relief.
Benjamin died the following month. We were sad, but I was thankful that he would not be around when word got out. I knew we had done nothing illegal, but his suspicions would have been aroused and it would not have been pleasant.
We didn’t do anything spectacular. We persuaded a passing merchant to swap one of his donkeys and a couple of goats for some of the precious stones. We went to Jerusalem for the Passover and took some coins with us. We were amazed at what they were worth—far more than we had expected. But we tried not to look surprised, and over the years we built up our fortune. And, yes, Joanna got her ring back! I got extra points for that.
The village has grown a lot in the passing years. The field isn’t so far out of town anymore. We eventually decided to do what we told Benjamin we would so many years ago. We built a house on his field, just above the old fig tree.
A few months ago I went to see Jesus. I went one night because I didn’t want to risk seeing him during the day. I’m a member of the Sanhedrin now—yes, I have gone up in the world! Anyway, among other things, I told him our story. He looked at me for a while then he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field.” I didn’t understand what he meant then but, sometime later, Joanna and I heard him talking to the crowds. I’m not sure if he saw me, but he said the same words and then he went on, “The man went and sold everything he had and bought that field.”
Joanna looked at me, incredulous. “That’s our story, Nicodemus! And he’s right, isn’t he?” she went on. “Once you’ve seen the treasure for yourself, nothing will hold you back.”
 See Numbers 11:5-6
Pictures by Suat Eman http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=151